Director’s Remarks

Summer 2022

A quarterly e-newsletter in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) shares news, perspectives and progress in the science and practice of health equity.

Dr. Leandris Liburd
Dr. Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, MA

Director of CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity

I recently returned from attending an International Conference on Health, Race, and Racism in London. The conference was hosted by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Race and Health Observatory. Last year, we established a partnership with the Race and Health Observatory to share expertise in addressing the global burden of health inequalities. When fully implemented, our bilateral partnership is poised to shift longstanding patterns of health inequalities and inequities in racial and ethnic groups that for too long have suffered from largely preventable health disparities. The International Health, Race and Racism Conference illuminated the global experience of health inequalities born by Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples. Scholars, health care providers, public health practitioners, policymakers, philanthropists, and community members from Canada, Guatemala, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.K., and the U.S. headlined this conference sharing actionable research on policy and systems change. Interest was evident with close to 2000 participants joining online from nations around the world. The conference was a bittersweet experience for me.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought us together. As in the U.S., the U.K.’s racial and ethnic minority populations were disproportionately affected by the pandemic. While the United States and the United Kingdom share some similarities in a market economy, our democratic systems of governance, and growing racial and ethnic diversity, there are also differences in how our health care systems are organized and delivered, how we categorize population groups, collect data, and other cultural and political differences, to name a few. Regretfully, we share the lived experience of racism – interpersonal, cultural, and structural. A combination of personal experiences and research captured realities of racism, cultural distance, and social injustices across a variety of nations and states.

The COVID-19 pandemic galvanized historic investments in the U.S. to address health disparities along with record levels of community engagement. In moving toward equity, we have the opportunity to enhance our data collection and analytic methods such that different population groups and their lived experience are not left invisible. We can also enhance our surveillance systems to better monitor upstream social factors. As we move health equity forward, effectively leveraging policy, systems and environmental change will be critical, along with tackling the systemic roots of racism that are embedded in so many policies and practices that characterize our healthcare and public health systems. We must be able to articulate how racism works in health care and public health and drive toward anti-racism and equity in these systems.

This is a big charge, and an urgent one. Working together through this bi-lateral partnership with the UK, and with other nations, we can accelerate progress in achieving equity. My colleague, Dr. Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, argues ‘health inequalities are a global phenomenon that requires global solutions.’ Having met health professionals from some of the wealthiest countries in the world who are leading cutting edge research and practice to reduce health inequities was a sweet and motivating moment for me.

I know for sure that we are not alone in the quest to transform systems of health care and public health toward greater equity. In the U.S., we have a Health Equity Champion in the White House – Dr. B. Cameron Webb. Dr. Webb has been a valiant leader and advocate for achieving equity in all aspects of the COVID-19 response. He has leveraged data, policies, and practices from his position in the White House to close gaps in vaccination coverage and facilitated coordination and outreach with national as well as state public health leaders. Dr. Webb and many others are unsung heroes in the fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In this issue of Health Equity Matters, we recognize and honor Dr. Webb!  You can also learn more about unique programs being implemented around the country to address COVID-19 in communities of color in this issue.

Articles on mental health, firearm deaths, health literacy, and others round out the summer issue of Health Equity Matters! Grab a cup of tea or coffee and dig in! We are confident you will find this issue informative. Share the link with your friends and professional networks. Health equity is good for everybody!

Be well. Stay safe.